Photographer Jo Ann Santangelo captures the women affected by DADT


The twists and turns and machinations leading up to last week’s Senate vote against moving forward with discussion on overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have caused most of us a lot of frustration and anger. But I can’t imagine the feelings of LGBT members of the military who have been directly affected by the absurd directive to lie about who they are in order to serve their country.

An item on Cherry Girl called our attention to a project by lesbian photographer Jo Ann Santangelo that, quite literally, puts a face to DADT. Proud To Serve, which is currently on exhibit at the LGBT center in New York, is a multimedia project and photo essay that tells the stories of some those who have suffered the consequences of the policy.

Former Army National Guard mechanic Sergeant Jen Hogg with partner Jackie Scalone

Santangelo started the project in 2009 while studying at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan. In defining the project, she states, “[I] wanted to not only put a human face on the statistics of the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy but to also remove the ‘gay’ label—break the stereotypes of what a lot of Americans think a gay person is. I wanted to show that we are all just people. That is why I decided to do simple, informal portraits in the homes of these American heroes with the hope of showing that we are all just men and women, living our lives.”

Airman 1st Class Kelsey Snipes, Air Force medic-in-training until discharge

She spent two years visiting the homes and workplaces of 67 men and women, interviewing and documenting the vets. The power of the photography is in its simplicity — Santangelo’s portraits are unforced, just a moment in the lives of these men and women, all of whom either kept silent about sexual orientation for their entire careers or came out and were discharged.

Sergeant Tracey Gerald, Marine Corps recruiter and ambulance driver in Iraq

Some of the veterans didn’t realize or come to terms with their orientation until they already were in the service. Many had long and distinguished careers, but kept their personal lives hidden. In retirement, however, they are finding healing and acceptance in the movement to overturn DADT. And they appreciate how younger veterans refuse to lie in order to stay in the military.

Lieutenant Colonel Nancy Russell joined WAC in 1962 and became Adjutant General Corporal when women were integrated into the Army. She retired in 1982 and testified before Congress against DADT in 1994.

The younger vets, for their part, just want to be able to do what they love. Although most have found success in their careers outside the armed forces, they would re-enlist if DADT were repealed because they truly love the military way of life.

Sara Isaacson was ejected from the Army ROTC at UNC Chapel Hill and is appealing the Army decision that she repay her $79,265 scholarship.

A book collecting the portraits from the Proud To Serve project was released on Veteran’s Day and you can view other photos of LGBT veterans — and order the book — at Santangelo’s website. Then come back and share your comments on this incredible project.

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